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Vitamin B6 May Help Patients Overcome Anxiety and Depression

Vitamin B6 May Help Patients Overcome Anxiety and Depression

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

For people with anxiety and depression who are seeking a "plan B" to traditional medicine, vitamin B6 may offer hope. A new placebo-controlled study by researchers from the U.K. found that taking high-dose vitamin B6 helped reduce anxiety symptoms and may help with depression.

Anxiety and depression are among the most common mental health problems in the U.S. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, 18.1 percent of adults in the U.S. live with an anxiety disorder and 6.9 percent struggle with a depressive disorder.

For decades, the first line of treatment in conventional medicine has been antidepressant drugs like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). While therapy, lifestyle changes and nutrition can benefit mental health, the findings of this vitamin B6 study suggest there may be a potential nutrition-based intervention in preventing and treating mental health disorders.

Important safety note: If you're currently taking prescription medication for anxiety or depression, do not make any changes to your regimen without first consulting your healthcare provider. These medications need to be tapered off slowly and strategically under a doctor's supervision. More research is needed to determine whether B6 and other nutrients improve mental health.

The calming effects of vitamin B6

The researchers from the University of Reading in the U.K. recruited 478 volunteers with anxiety and/or depression and measured the impact of high doses of vitamin B6 intake.

The participants were randomly given either:

  • 100 mg of vitamin B6 (as pyridoxine hydrochloride)
  • 1 mg of vitamin B12 (as methylcobalamin)
  • A placebo

After a month, those who took a daily high-dose of vitamin B6, but not the placebo or vitamin B12, reported a significant reduction in anxiety.

The results of the controlled trial showed the effects of B6 could be linked to increased gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA for short) levels in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter or brain chemical that suppresses excitability in neurons, producing a calming effect. In other words, GABA is the brain chemical that helps slow down brain activity, so we don't stay "on" all the time—and vitamin B6 helps us channel more of that calming GABA.

"Vitamin B6 helps the body produce a specific chemical messenger that inhibits impulses in the brain, and our study links this calming effect with reduced anxiety among the participants," the authors explained.

But before you stock up on vitamin B6—and certainly before you consider making any changes to your prescribed medications—note that this study offers only preliminary findings.

"This research is at an early stage and the effect of vitamin B6 on anxiety in our study was quite small compared to what you would expect from medication," the authors stated. "However, nutrition-based interventions produce far fewer unpleasant side effects than drugs, and so in the future, people might prefer them as an intervention."

What is vitamin B6?

Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, is part of the water-soluble B vitamin family. It's well-known for supporting the central nervous system and metabolism. Your body uses it to break down the foods you consume to make energy and to maintain healthy cognitive balance and performance.

Unlike fat-soluble vitamins (like vitamin D), your body cannot store vitamin B6 (or any of the B vitamins), so you must get it through your diet or non-food sources when appropriate.

Why is vitamin B6 good for anxiety and depression?

The intricate workings of your brain—that mushy collection of neurons and other brain cells—are many, but in a nutshell, your brain works through a delicate balance of excitatory signals ("let's do this!") and inhibitory ones ("stop!").

The slightest disruption to this balance, like when we experience anxiety, alters brain activity significantly. Vitamin B6 helps the brain produce GABA, which inhibits excitatory signaling between brain cells and results in a calming effect, as well as serotonin.

Pro tip: Major depressive symptoms have been associated with lower cognition and a faster rate of cognitive decline. Treating depression isn't just about improving your mood—it's also about protecting your brain.

8 vitamin B6 food sources

You'll naturally find vitamin B6 (and other B vitamins) in these animal and plant foods:

  1. Beef liver

  2. Tuna

  3. Salmon

  4. Poultry

  5. Chickpeas

  6. Dark leafy greens

  7. Bananas, papayas, oranges and cantaloupe

  8. Fortified cereals

Pro tip: If you lean more to vegetarian or vegan choices, you may want to consider adding vitamins to your routine—it's an excellent way to bridge any nutritional gaps.

What does vitamin B6 do to your body?

Your body uses the active form of vitamin B6 to support over 100 enzymes that perform several biological functions like the breakdown of macronutrients, such as proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Here are five ways vitamin B6 works with your body.

  1. Brain activity balance

    —Pyridoxine (vitamin B6) acts as a coenzyme or a helper molecule and helps produce inhibitory neurotransmitters like GABA and your "feel-good" neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.
  2. Healthy ticker

    —Maintaining healthy blood levels of vitamin B6 and other B vitamins can do wonders for your heart. Low levels of vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid have been linked to high homocysteine levels and an increased risk for heart disease. B6 also has been shown to support healthy homocysteine levels—high homocysteine levels are a critical heart health marker.
  3. Energy from foods

    —Vitamin B6 and other "Bs" are involved in the metabolic process of creating cellular energy.
  4. Stronger line of defense

    —Vitamin B6 helps regulate chemical reactions in the immune system. Research has shown that low levels can negatively impact the immune response.
  5. Ease premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

    —Studies have shown that B6 intake can help with PMS symptoms like anxiety, depression and breast tenderness.

What are B vitamins?

There are eight B vitamins, all of which support different biological processes in the body.

  1. Thiamine or vitamin B1 is necessary to produce fatty acids, neurotransmitters and other compounds required for brain function.
  2. Riboflavin or B2 is used by the body to produce, convert and recycle other B vitamins like folate, vitamin B6 and niacin, and support other biological processes.
  3. Niacin or B3 is crucial for a vast array of biological pathways and enzymes involved in cognitive performance. It also helps with energy production, antioxidant protection and more.
  4. Pantothenic acid or B5 is necessary to produce ubiquitous coenzyme A (CoA), essential for maintaining healthy brain cell structure and function.
  5. Pyridoxine or B6 is used by the body to produce GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter, which has a calming effect in the brain.
  6. Biotin or B7 is essential for healthy glucose metabolism.
  7. Folic acid (folate) or B9 is necessary for heart and brain health by supporting healthy homocysteine levels.
    Pro tip: A folate deficiency has been linked to anxiety and depressive symptoms. Increased folate intake may help improve symptoms.
  8. Cobalamin or B12 supports nerve and blood cell health; it also plays a role in DNA synthesis.

B vitamins are essential for healthy cell function. They help regulate metabolism, create blood cells, maintain cellular health, and more. Each vitamin B is molecularly different, but they are all naturally found in the same foods and are all water-soluble, so it makes sense to group them as a B-complex.

Consult with your doctor before adding a vitamin B complex to your wellness routine.

Is a vitamin B deficiency common?

No. Still, a vitamin B deficiency can occur due to age-related inadequate nutrient absorption or if you’re not eating balanced meals. People with restrictive diets that exclude animal products, and the elderly can be at most risk for a vitamin B deficiency.

A B6 deficiency can indicate an overall low B-complex concentration in blood levels and can result in health concerns, so avoiding low levels, or a deficiency is a no-brainer.

How much vitamin B6 should I take?

Since vitamin B6 is water-soluble, your body gets rid of any excess through the urine. This means that you need to consume this vitamin on a regular basis to meet the recommended daily allowance (RDA).

Age Female Male
0-6 months 0.1 mg 0.1 mg
7-12 months 0.3 mg 0.3 mg
1-3 years 0.5 mg 0.5 mg
4-8 years 0.6 mg 0.6 mg
9-13 years 1.0 mg 1.0 mg
14-18 years 1.3 mg 1.2 mg
19-50 years 1.3 mg 1.3 mg
51+ years 1.7 mg 1.5 mg
During pregnancy 1.9 mg  
During lactation 2.0 mg  

Note: The RDA is the minimum amount required to avoid a deficiency. However, the recent study on vitamin B6 intake used a high dose (100 mg of pyridoxine) to deliver calming effects in the brain. You'll want to speak with your doctor about adding a high-dose vitamin to your routine.

7 nutrients that help with anxiety and depression

More research is needed to support nutrition-based intervention as an alternative to preventing and treating mental and mood disorders. However, evidence suggests that indeed, you can eat your way to a healthy mind. Here are seven nutrients that have been shown to support mental health.

  • Probiotics

    —Your mind and gut are intimately connected, so maintaining a healthy gut positively impacts brain health. Studies show that certain probiotic strains improve symptoms in people with depression.
    Pro tip:  Probiotics have been shown to support antidepressant treatment and significantly improve symptoms.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

    —Omega-3s are a staple in any healthy diet (think the Mediterranean diet). If adding more fish to your meals isn't your thing, you may want to consider fish oil. Omega-3 can be an excellent source of the fatty acids your body needs to thrive. Fish oil helps protect the brain from oxidative stress. The omega-3 fatty acids also help inhibit inflammatory factors, supporting cognitive health and performance.
  • Saffron

    —The sweet, earthy spice has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and improve mental health.
  • Magnesium

    —Known as the mighty mineral, magnesium can work with the brain to promote feelings of calmness and relaxation.
  • L-theanine

    —A natural occurring amino acid in green tea, l-theanine is a mood-boosting nutrient that helps promote relaxation and better sleep.
  • Vitamin D

    —The "sunshine vitamin" is also crucial for cognitive health. Studies have shown that a vitamin D deficiency is associated with depressive symptoms. Adding vitamin D to your wellness routine may help symptoms, and may potentially support antidepressant treatment.
  • L-tryptophan

    —This amino acid has been found to reduce depression symptoms, and may even help enhance the effectiveness of antidepressants.

Let's recap: anxiety and depression are the most common mood disorders among adults in the Unites States. Patients who struggle with symptoms turn to antidepressant medications that result in unpleasant side effects. This new placebo-controlled study found that high doses of vitamin B6 can help reduce symptoms by regulating brain chemicals like GABA. The controlled trial also sheds light on the potential for nutrition-based intervention in preventing and treating mental health disorders.

Always speak with your healthcare provider before adding vitamin B6 (or any vitamin) to your routine.



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The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.